Online Shopping Smarts laptop, credit card, and small boxes

Protecting Your Financial Identity during the Season of Giving

Though it’s been a long and challenging year for us all, it is time to enjoy the holiday season - and that includes gift giving! Maybe you like to avoid the rush and shop early, maybe you can’t resist a good Black Friday deal, or maybe you’re a last-minute bargain hunter. Whatever your preference, limited gathering and social distancing rules mean more folks are turning to online shopping this year. This means that online predators will work as hard as they can to gain access to your financial information. We’ve compiled a list of helpful tips for safe online shopping this season.

Use a Secure WiFi

We’ll just come out and say it – do not shop online on public WiFi. That means while you’re browsing on your mobile phone, tablet, or laptop at a coffee shop, department store, gym, etc., do not enter your card information to make an online payment. The reason is simple: public WiFi is not secure. While you’re at it, avoid accessing your Online Banking accounts on public WiFi too.

Tip: Turn off automatic connections on your devices. Your device will then ask for your permission to connect to any public Internet available. If you begin browsing, this can prevent accidentally exposing your information. 

Avoid Fake e-Stores

Online retail has evolved, and not just with how you pay. With the advent of social media, advertising products online is easier than ever. While this can be great for small businesses and entrepreneurs, many scammers have now taken to creating fake online stores, or e-stores, using stock-photos to advertise retail products that don’t exist. They just need your attention long enough for you to “make a purchase”. 

Tip: Know what’s real and what’s fake:

  • Check the URL in your browser. Does it list the name of the company? Most companies will try to purchase a URL to match their company brand in some recognizable way (E.g. OldNavy is, whereas Bob’s Discount Furniture is
  • Is it a secure site? Ensure you’re using a secure site by checking your URL window for a locked padlock before the URL. An insecure site will have an unlocked red padlock before the URL.
  • Listen to your browser. Upon visiting a site, your browser (Chrome, Safari, Edge, etc.) may give you a pop-up telling you that “the website you are about to enter is not secure”, and require you to acknowledge the message before you proceed. This isn’t quite the same as clicking on a malicious link or opening an unknown PDF - choosing to enter an insecure site does not necessarily mean the site itself will cause you harm, but it’s more like a bad neighborhood. The site has not taken steps to prevent malicious agents of all types to enter and pray on you while you’re there. You can therefore consider this browser message to be a red flag.
  • Trust your gut. Some online stores advertise deals that are too good to be true. Other times you just get a bad feeling from the site. When in doubt, exit the site. There will always be other offers and other discounts.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday

It’s almost certain Brick and Mortar retailers will not be encouraging folks to pile into their stores at 5am this year, but they’ll still want to take advantage of the post-Thanksgiving tradition. Many companies are making arrangements for Black Friday deals throughout the month of November and into December. They will also be more inclined to turn your attention toward their online counterparts. Don’t let digital countdown clocks or expiring deals cause you to rush through your shopping and miss online shopping red flags. This is a good time to browse, shop, and checkout with care.

Tips: Whether online or in person, do some research and map out a shopping plan so you can take advantage of sales safely. You may also want to consider your method of payment. Use third-party payment methods where you can (like Paypal, you virtual wallet, etc.) to avoid using and sharing your credit or debit card number with a company directly.  

Asking for Help

This time of year isn’t always easy, especially this year, but BMI Federal Credit Union is here to help. Do you know about the BMI Federal Credit Union Holiday Loan? Explore your options for a great loan with low rates and easy payments! You can even apply online. If you need a one-on-one review of your finances, Contact a Certified Financial Coach today! You can also call us at 614.707.4000. Don't forget, nearly all of your banking needs, including BMI FCU Financial Education, can be achieved from the safety of your home. Visit our Remote Banking Services to learn more. For more information about Identity Theft, visit our Identity Theft Resource Center. Stay safe and savvy this holiday season!

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Rates as of November 1, 2020. A $1,000 loan will be 12 monthly payments of $87.01. A $3,000 loan will be 24 monthly payments of $136.55. A $5,000 loan will be 36 monthly payments of $160.13. Only one Holiday Loan per member. Members with existing Holiday Loans are eligible and will need to combine their existing Holiday Loan into the new loan. No Payment for 60 days. Rates, terms, and conditions are subject to change and may vary based on creditworthiness, and qualifications. All loans subject to approval. Membership eligibility requirements apply. BMI FCU is open to everyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Franklin, Licking, Fairfield, Pickaway, Madison, Union, Delaware or Morrow County. Federally Insured by NCUA. BMI FCU may amend, suspend, or discontinue this offer at any time without notice. Offer ends January 31, 2021.